DevOps is a methodology widely used by the software industry to help development and operations teams work together to speed up the software development cycle, reduce unnecessary costs, and lessen deployment failures. Nowadays, many companies have adopted this methodology, and many DevOps tools and platforms have been created. Chef, Puppet, and Ansible are three popular DevOps tools on the market.
Chef, or Progress Chef, is a configuration management tool that effectively manages your infrastructure. The Chef allows you to use Ruby to create system configurations, which are called recipes, describing the optimal state of your infrastructure, such as which server should be running what service, what software should be installed, what files should be written, and so on. With these configurations, Chef will ensure your infrastructure is configured correctly and automatically fix any resources not running at the optimal state.
Puppet is another popular server configuration management tool allowing you to configure and monitor many servers at the same time. It uses its own declarative language for describing system configurations, and it only requires the user to have a limited amount of programming knowledge to use.
Ansible is a relatively newer product, but it has gained significant popularity since Red Hat acquired it in 2015. It allows you to automate software provisioning, configuration management, and application deployment. Ansible uses YAML to create system configurations, describing the optimal state of your infrastructure.
In this article, we will compare all three platforms in detail to help you find the best option for your DevOps team. The comparison will be based on the following criteria:
- Set up and configuration
- Ease of use
- User interface
- Cross-platform support
- Configuration management
- Compliance and security policy management
- Documentation and support
|Easy set up and configuration
|Ease of use
|✓✓ (advanced features)
|✓✓ (advanced features)
|✓ (easier to use)
|Compliance and security policy management
|Documentation and support
|require custom quote
|require custom quote
|require custom quote
✕ - does not support
✓ - partial support
✓✓ - full support
1. Architecture: tie
When it comes to architecture, the three platforms go in a similar direction. They all have a main server, several nodes, as well as backup/secondary servers. The main server is a central repository that stores configuration data and manages the state of the entire system. The nodes are the servers and virtual machines managed by the main server. And the backup servers are copies of the main server, which step up if the main server runs into problems.
- For Chef, there is a main Chef server, and if there is a failure, a backup Chef server will take its place.
- For Puppet, it follows a multi-master architecture. If the active Puppet Master goes down, another one will replace it.
- Ansible has a slightly different architecture but has the same idea. Instead of a primary server, Ansible is installed on nodes. Only one instance will be running when it is working, called the active instance. In case of failure, a secondary instance will take its place.
This architecture is designed to provide a simple and robust solution for managing infrastructure, ensuring that your infrastructure can withstand occasional server failures. There is no way to say which architecture is better than the other, as they all work similarly.
2. Set up and configuration: Ansible wins
To set up Chef, you need first to configure a main server, which runs the Chef software, as well as a backup server. Then you have to install an agent on every server that Chef manages. The agent allows Chef to manage the node server directly. This process could take a lot of effort, especially when you have many servers to manage. And there is an extra layer in Chef called workstation, which stores the configurations, allowing them to be tested before they are pushed to the main Chef server. Overall, Progress Chef is not easy to set up.
As for Puppet, the setup process is also not easy, as it follows a similar architecture. You must create a main server and install agents on the node servers. And you also have to configure certificate signing between the main server and the agents to ensure the security of communications. As a result, Puppet is challenging to set up too.
Lastly, Ansible uses SSH to connect to the node servers, making it a lot easier to configure. You only need to set up the primary instance and create an SSH connection between the primary instance and the nodes.
Overall, Ansible is the easiest option to set up and configure.
3. Ease of use: Ansible wins
Compared to the other two platforms, Chef has a steeper learning curve, as it requires the user to have programming skills as well as a deep understanding of Ruby. However, if you already fit this requirement, you will find Chef to be a very robust and flexible tool for managing complex infrastructure.
Puppet is relatively easier to learn, as it utilizes a declarative language called Puppet DSL, which is easy to read and write.
Ansible is considered the easiest to use among the three tools, thanks to its agentless architecture and the use of simple, human-readable YAML syntax. In addition, it doesn't require strong programming skills, making it accessible to users of all skill levels.
4. User interface: tie
Image from chef.io
Chef Automate is a web-based UI that allows you to visualize infrastructures, create dashboards, and manage the nodes and their roles. You may also analyze and remediate compliance problems and troubleshoot issues through the user interface.
Image from puppet.com
Puppet also comes with Puppet Console, allowing the users to manage nodes, classes, and environments through a graphical interface. The console also provides a dashboard that displays the status of nodes, errors, and warnings.
Image from ansible.com
Lastly, Ansible also comes with a well-designed UI, allowing you to manage how automation is deployed, initiated, delegated, and audited. For example, you can view the status of jobs, manage credentials, and access audit trails through the user interface.
However, it's worth noting that even though these user interfaces are handy and very well-designed. They do not replace the command line tools, which are still the primary way to interact with the platforms, especially for advanced usage and automation.
5. Scalability: tie
All three platforms are highly scalable due to how their architectures are designed.
With Chef, you can scale horizontally by adding more main servers in order to handle more node servers. Or you can split your infrastructure into multiple Chef organizations, each with its own set of users, policies, and cookbooks.
Puppet is also highly scalable and can handle large-scale infrastructures. It works similarly to Chef by allowing you to add more primary servers or splitting the infrastructure into multiple groups.
Ansible is designed to be lightweight and agentless, which makes it highly scalable and ideal for managing large-scale infrastructures. All you need to do is define a primary control node, and Ansible will be able to manage thousands of servers from there.
All three tools are highly scalable and can handle large-scale infrastructures. Their approaches and capabilities may vary, but it is impossible to say which is better under all scenarios. It depends on your specific requirement.
6. Cross-platform support: tie
Progress Chef's main server can only be installed on Linux/UNIX operating systems, but the agents can also be installed on Windows. With the right plug-in, Chef can also manage cloud services such as AWS, Google Cloud, or Microsoft Azure.
The Puppet primary server can only be installed on Linux systems, but the agents can operate on Linux, Windows, or macOS. And just like Chef, it is also able to manage cloud platforms.
And lastly, Ansible can work with Linux, Windows, macOS, cloud platforms, as well as Docker and Kubernetes.
7. Configuration management: Chef and Puppet wins
Next, let's compare how these platforms manage the configurations.
Chef and Puppet both go with the centralized approach, meaning that the configurations are stored in a centralized place, and then the nodes will pull the configurations from the main server. They also offer more advanced features for managing configuration data, such as version control, dependency management, and rollbacks.
On the other hand, Ansible uses the decentralized approach, where the configurations are distributed across multiple servers. However, it focuses more on task automation and orchestration and does not offer many advanced features.
Overall, Chef and Puppet have many more advanced features for more experienced users, but Ansible is much easier to set up and use, making it more suitable for smaller teams that don't require many advanced features.
8. Compliance and security: Puppet wins
When managing an extensive infrastructure, security, and compliance configurations are crucial to the safety of your infrastructure and organization.
Chef offers InSpec, an auditing and testing framework capable of defining and automating security and compliance policies. In addition, it allows for custom test creation and supports infrastructure testing at various stages of development.
Puppet also provides an open-source tool called Puppet Remediate, which can help you identify and remediate vulnerabilities in your infrastructure. Puppet Enterprise also comes with the Compliance Automation tool, providing a centralized interface for managing compliance policies and ensuring that nodes are configured correctly.
Lastly, Ansible comes with Ansible Tower, which is also a centralized place for managing security policies. It can also integrate with third-party vulnerability scanners and automate remediation tasks.
Overall, Puppet has a more comprehensive solution for managing compliance policies and enforcing security standards.
9. Documentation and support: tie
All three platforms offer various types of support for their users, such as online documentation, community forum, online courses and training. You may also contact their teams and purchase additional one on one support if you want.
10. Pricing: tie
Lastly, as for the prices, all three platforms require you to contact them and get a custom quote based on the size of your infrastructure and usage.
Puppet is the only one that offers a free trial option, allowing you to test the product before buying.
In this article, we compared three popular DevOps tools, Chef, Puppet, and Ansible. Each of them has its own strengths and advantages, and they perform better under different circumstances. Overall, Chef and Puppet are better suited for managing complex configurations and larger deployments, while Ansible is easier to set up and use and is more focused on orchestration. You should choose the most suitable solution based on the condition of your own infrastructure.
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